Diet Musings #2: Eating Weird

26 Jun

Note: I love food and food loves me. Sometimes it loves me too much. I’m blogging to channel my energy away from obsessing over what I shouldn’t be eating.

In the Bay Area, I prided myself on providing dietary access. Meaning that, regardless of whether you were vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, allergic to nuts, allergic to chocolate, allergic to seafood, kept halal, kept kosher, or any other dietary choice, I would make sure you had something to eat at any event I coordinated.

I’ve hosted a vegan Chinese New Year dinner, celebrated several vegan Thanksgivings, and one of my going-away parties was largely vegan. Every February when we would celebrate staff birthdays for that month, I made sure that Carol got her favorite chocolate cake and Roger, who’s allergic to chocolate, got an apple pie. When one of my co-workers wanted tiramisu, we accommodated vegans by getting a slice from Café Gratitude. When I took two friends to their first dim sum, and learned that one is allergic to seafood and the other doesn’t eat pork, I took good care to make sure everyone got enough to eat and didn’t perish in the process.

These food choices perplexed and amused friends and family in Orange County. My family still likes to tell the story from 16 years ago when my sister stopped eating red meat for a few years; that’s how rare it is. Eating “weird” here means you are weird. My grandmother didn’t eat meat on Fridays and I’d get embarrassed when my best friend wouldn’t come over because she hated the smell of fish. I hated pizza (turns out I couldn’t digest the cheese), but I willingly ate Little Caesars Pizza at every sleepover so I wouldn’t be left out. We had “multicultural day” in 6th grade and I was mortified when people made fun of the boiled wontons I brought, but I was glad to not be the girl who brought the über-strange Swedish black soup. I traded elementary school lunch stories with a Sri Lankan friend who grew up in Huntington Beach. You can imagine how yellow curry sandwiches went over at her mostly-white school in the 80s.

Growing up with early sensitivity to food choices and feeling like I couldn’t be “out” in Orange County about what I ate at home (I couldn’t say half of them in English anyway), has made me hyper-aware of making sure that everyone has something they can eat.

In OC, this pride in providing dietary access is useless since everyone here pretty much eats everything. Among 30 co-workers, a handful of friends, and the 30 members of my family in SoCal, there are no vegetarians, much less vegans. I don’t know anyone here with serious food allergies either – but that could be simply because I don’t know many people and of those I do know, I’m genetically related to half of them. It could also be that people are experiencing allergies to things like gluten and dairy but don’t know the cause (gluten-free isn’t a thing here).

I thought I could transfer my food sensitivity to encouraging family to eat homemade, locally grown, organic, non-processed things. Like Newman-O’s instead of Oreos. The farmers market instead of Albertsons. Cooking at home instead of Carl’s Jr. Progress has been slow.

But I had one small victory recently. I started packing my partner snap peas to snack on at work. Apparently, someone snacking on dip-less green vegetables is an odd sight because he was approached skeptically by his co-workers, his boss, and his friend’s 2-year old. But after trying them, the snap peas were enthusiastically received, even being called “green French fries”. I proudly pack him extra to share.

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